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D-backs’ Shelby Miller recovers from familiar poor start to go deep against Braves

Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Shelby Miller (26) works in the first inning of a baseball game against the Atlanta Braves Saturday, May 7, 2016, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

It started all too familiarly. It ended with a reason for optimism.

Arizona starting pitcher Shelby Miller found himself in trouble in the first two innings Saturday against his former team, the Atlanta Braves. Yet, he ended up closing out his first quality start — going at least six frames and allowing no more than three runs — as a Diamondback.

“Really, just kind of started to throw the ball at the plate and stop trying to throw the perfect strike,” Miller said on the FOX Sports Arizona broadcast. “I felt like I did a decent job getting into a little groove.”

Miller went six full frames, allowing four hits and two earned runs. He threw 84 pitches, 54 for strikes in the 4-2 D-backs’ victory, his first visit back to Turner Field.

“It’s definitely nice to get here and get back on track,” Miller said. “Build off of that and work toward my next start in Arizona.”

At the beginning, it only seemed Miller would continue down a dark path that had his ERA sitting at 8.49 through his first six starts. Miller hung a fastball high in the zone to Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman for a solo shot in the bottom of the first inning that put the Braves ahead 1-0.

The second inning didn’t go much better.

Miller struggled to field a bunt by Reid Brignac that beat a shift and the pitcher hit the next batter, Erick Aybar, on the elbow to put two on with no outs. Falling behind in the count to Daniel Castro, Miller required a visit to the mound by pitching coach Mike Butcher, an all-too-familiar scene since a knuckle injury compounded with mechanical issues.

After Miller appeared to fiddle with his throwing hand, he loaded the bases by walking Castro, bringing back memories of his last five starts. Miller hasn’t lasted more than five frames since going six innings in his Arizona debut on April 5.

On Saturday, again with Miller in trouble, an infield pop-up by the Braves followed by a sac-fly gave Atlanta a 2-0 lead, but Miller would quickly get out of the second with minimal damage considering the circumstances.

From there, the starter went about his business efficiently and by the end of his night induced nine groundouts and four flyouts.

Most importantly — for his psyche, momentum or otherwise — Miller left with Arizona leading 3-2.

“Came out of the bullpen throwing,” manager Chip Hale said on the FOX Sports Arizona postgame broadcast. “He did have some jams. He got out of them. He was great. Just felt like at that point with our three in-game relievers, we were ready to go.

“I just didn’t want to see walks,” Hale added. “He did a good job of throwing strikes. Watching him sort of handle the pressure was beautiful.”

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